Heav'n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn'd,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn'd.
~ William Congrave, The Mourning Bride ~

Chapter Two : : Balance of Power

They stayed up too late, talking and retreading paths that had not been crossed for far too long. Marie lay back on the bed, hair and fingers trailing off the edge. Kitty curled up in Marie's desk chair, occasionally dropping down a foot to send it spinning in a dizzying circle and come back giggling to their conversation. They talked about everything: grades, friends, books, shopping scores, family. There was so much they didn't know about each other anymore, and it seemed almost odd to Marie that they had really let their friendship die for so long. Though it probably shouldn't have surprised her.

Finally, she sighed and pulled her hand back onto the bed. "Do you miss him?" she asked.

In the space of a heartbeat, the room fell silent and the laughter faded from Kitty's eyes. She looked thoughtful, almost as if she was analyzing a computer program instead of her own feelings.

There was no need to specify just who Marie was talking about.

Finally, Kitty answered, "I miss John."

The distinction was clear and Marie nodded, not terribly surprised. She missed John too, his sarcasm, his wry sense of humor, his mean game of foosball, his friendship with all of them.

She did not miss Pyro.

"Do you think he's changed?" Marie propped herself up on her side and looked at Kitty.

Kitty jerked her head sharply to the right and sent herself spinning again. "I think he's Pyro."

Pyro. He'd sold out, moved on, called himself a 'god among insects,' become their worst enemy. He'd tried to kill them at Alcatraz. How could anyone blame them for trying to forget that their one-time friend was now their bitterest foe?

Marie sighed and dropped onto her back once more. "Do you think a name really matters all that much?"

"'What's in a name?'" Kitty quoted dramatically, sitting up ramrod straight. "'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.'"

Both girls giggled.

Kitty clambered down off her chair and flopped onto the bed beside Marie. "I meant it, you know."

"I know." Marie stared at the ceiling. "It's just..."

Kitty eyed her inquisitively.

Pensive silence stretched. Finally, Marie sat up and rolled over onto her side to face her friend. "I think I'm okay with being Rogue," she said at last.

Kitty's eyes widened, but she nodded supportively.

Marie--Rogue—fell back onto the bed again and gave one curt nod to herself. "So, Shadowcat," she said abruptly. "Tell me what you think you know about being Cured."

Kitty huffed.

"Go on," Rogue cut off any potential response. "We haven't got all night."

But of course, they did.

"I don't think I know," Kitty said, huffing again, then elbowing Rogue in the ribs. "I actually do know something about it."

"Oh?" Rogue drawled, raising one eyebrow.

"Yes. Ever since Jimmy came, Hank and Ms. McTaggert have let me help out in the lab a little, especially Hank." Kitty rolled over onto her back and started gesturing animatedly at the ceiling. "Mostly I'm just a gopher, but Hank's asked me to look over some stuff for him, write up results, and the way that the Cure interacts with the body is just fascinating."

Rogue blinked as Kitty worked up a full head of steam.

"I mean, do you, like, have any idea just what the serum actually means about how mutation is transferred? Of course, Jimmy's genome is already designed to affect other DNA, but at the same time, it means that injecting a serum created from Logan's blood is just as likely to pass along healing factor as the Cure was to pass along suppression. The difference with Jimmy is that it had to be modified in such a way that it would suppress the carrier's mutation while leaving mutants' in the surrounding areas alone. You oughta see the write up I'm working on for my science thesis. I've been going over just how Jimmy's mutation is able to affect others without actually making skin to skin contact." Kitty grinned over at Rogue. "It's so fascinating. And—"

Rogue clamped a hand over Kitty's mouth.

Kitty glared at her.

"Let me be more specific, sugar," Rogue said. "How do you think I can get control?"

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Footsteps echoed dimly on stone. Marrow looked up, blue eyes brightening on the open door. Boots, swirling cloaks, the familiar flapping of a brown trench coat.


She caught the tilted head, the shaded expression. Uncertainty flickered in his eyes, but Marrow didn't care. She dropped the sharp-edged bone carelessly on the floor and scrambled toward him.

He came.

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Cold morning light glinted through the blinds. Rogue rolled over with a groan. Shadowcat was zonked out at the foot of the bed, the blanket pulled from under Rogue and over her. The sharp buzzing of an alarm clock clued Rogue in to what had woken her.

She groaned again and hit the snooze button with the flat of her hand, face dropping into her pillow. "I'm not getting up," she muttered in protest against the universe. What girl in her right mind would anyway after staying up until three o'clock in the morning?

Predictably, Shadowcat did not respond. The girl had her own room for the specific reason that it took thunder or an enemy attack to wake her, and any poor person that actually shared with her either served as an alarm clock or had to endure the ridiculously loud one that Scott had bought just for Kitty.

Of course, there was always the adamantium alarm clock that was currently banging on Rogue's door.

"Go away!" she shouted. She huddled the covers over her ears as much as she could with Shadowcat pinning them down.

"Kitty! Marie! Up!" Logan shouted back through the door.

Rogue sat up. "This is my room!"

"And I can smell her in there. Up!" He banged a few more times to emphasize. "Don't make me come in there."

"It's a Sunday!"

"Will you all shut up?" Shadowcat muttered in her sleep.

Rogue glared at her, then threw the glare back to her door. "Go away! I'm sleeping in." She huffed and fell back into her covers.

Logan groaned from the other side of the door, then said with exaggerated patience. "Did you forget Storm called a meeting?"

Rogue froze. That. She had forgotten in her sleepiness and the fun of having stayed up all night that there was a reason for staying up all night, renewing ties, crying her heart out over what could never be. She sat up, suddenly chilled, and rubbed her bare arms. "Give that back!" she snapped and unburied the blanket from under Shadowcat, heartlessly watching the smaller girl go flying off the bed with a muffled gasp and a whump.

"Gee, thanks, Rogue. Such a good friend," the sheets muttered sarcastically.

"Marie..." Logan was clearly running short on patience.

She threw a book at the door. "I'm up!"

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The team had gathered in the big conference room. Everyone settled into their chairs, trying to ignore the empty spaces in the senior staff. Nobody liked to think about everything that had happened last year with Jean and Scott and Professor Xavier.

Storm glanced over her remaining people and the junior staff that had joined them.

It seemed impossible to inspire the kind of confidence they had or to provide the needed stability following their deaths, but at times like this, when all the staff gathered together, it was gratifying to see the strength and surety among their ranks. Only Bobby seemed a little agitated at Marie's inclusion. Storm had offered her a position, and Marie had accepted. Storm winced. She supposed everyone would know why in a minute.

"Let's start at the top," she said firmly, drawing everyone's attention. "Classes."

Logan growled softly. "I am not teaching history."

"That's fine." Storm smiled, remembering their long, drawn battle. "I have offered the position to Rogue, seeing as you objected rather strongly earlier."

Logan sent a surprised glance at his favorite student. Marie was silent, running one finger along the edge of the table and staring solemnly at it. He seemed puzzled for a moment, but then nodded in grudging acceptance.

They ran down classes and adjusted schedules. Several teachers were shifting out or taking on new responsibilities for the incoming swell of students.

"I'm in negotiations for a new teacher who will be useful to the team as well." Storm caught the flicker of interest from Bobby. He was growing into an able field leader, and any additions to the X-Men team was sure to catch his attention. "His name is Remy Lebeau. We should see him by the start of the term." She left out that he was actually supposed to have been here already and skipped out on her to "take care of" something.

Another glance around. Nods of acknowledgment. Thankfully, no one knew who he was—or his profession, or she'd be locking horns all morning.

A brief sigh. Move on. Line up the substitutes for when team members were out.

Finally, Storm came to her first bombshell in the form of a certain pyrokinetic's detention facility. It exploded.

"You can't bring him here!" Bobby shouted. "He'd probably try to burn us all down. He's a traitor!"

Storm tapped her fingers on her arm. "You should probably stop trying to tell me what I can and cannot do, Iceman."

Logan's claws slid out of one hand with an ominous sound, metal sliding against bone.

Storm glanced at Logan in tacit acknowledgment and gratitude. She was getting really tired of people questioning her in ways they had never questioned the Professor, field leader or not.

"The case is closed," she stated firmly into the grim faces of her team. "Pyro will serve his probation here."

Bobby glanced guiltily at Kitty. She did not look at him. Like Marie, she was staring at something on the edge of the table.

Hank Mccoy though smiled. "Perhaps this will be good for everyone."

"Yes," Storm agreed and promptly moved on before Hank could go into any extended socialization and psychological health theories. "He will have his probation officer with him, Emma Frost."

Kitty snapped her head up at that. "Emma Frost?"

"Yes." Storm agreed again. She eyed Kitty warily. She really didn't want any more explosions regarding Pyro or anyone else this morning when she still hadn't come to her most difficult points. "Any objections can be brought up later in private."

"Wait a second here." This time it was Logan.

Storm groaned inwardly. He was supposed to be her ally. "Yes, Logan?" She managed not to snap.

"If the Kitty Cat"—Kitty bristled at that—"knows something that could endanger the team, shouldn't we all know?"

With a sigh, Storm waved at Kitty to continue. She couldn't refute his logic, much as she wanted to get through and done with this part of the meeting.

Kitty looked extremely uncomfortable. "She tried to recruit me into this awful group of mutants that controlled the world or something."

"His probation officer?" Bobby looked livid.

Storm raised a hand to forestall his objections. "I will personally go over it with Kitty and verify what we need to know. On to the next topic," she said forcefully. When Pyro had been with them, he had been known as their troublesome hothead. Now, Bobby seemed to be taking on the role, and Storm made a note to self to address that with him later in private as well.

Bobby leaned back, looking anything but happy.

Finally, with a deep sigh, she came to the part she knew she—and Marie—had been dreading.

"The Cure."

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"What?" Emma Frost snapped harshly into the thin, white phone. She had specifically left instructions with any parties holding the number not to call today. She was busy.

But the voice on the other end was enough to quell even her. "I assume you've finished your first task," a clipped, British accent said coolly.

Emma jerked her head at her chauffer. He went ahead and opened the door, and she slid inside.

"I wasn't expecting to hear from you so soon," Emma replied with equal chill. No one could be colder than a Frost.

A moment's hesitation. A hint of a frown entered the woman's response. "You should have. It has been three weeks as you requested. Is stage one complete?"

"Almost." Emma leaned back against the white leather in her limousine. "Pick up times are strict at federal penitentiaries."

Another pause, clear disapproval. "Very well." With a click, the line went dead.

Emma sighed and snapped the phone shut before rummaging in a small white handpurse for some Excedrin. "Driver, stop by my house. I need to change."

"Yes, Ms. Frost."

Slipping between skins was a necessary skill for her. From wealthy socialite returning from a business lunch to criminal defense lawyer picking up her indefensible charge, and then finally to hard-nosed probation officer determined to keep said charge in line, her many faces were going to get quite a workout today. She hummed a little to herself and dropped the cell phone back into the purse.

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No one could look at her afterwards. That was the hard part. Being a freak among freaks.

Rogue brushed her white hair back from her face and tried to ignore the ones ignoring her as she moved through the hallway. Her arm tingled. Then a solid hand grasped her elbow. Shadowcat.

"Is it just me, or is this really, really weird?" asked the southern girl.

Shadowcat grimaced. "Weird. Definitely weird."

"Hey, wait up!"

They paused and waited for Bobby to catch up. He came to a stop in front of them and swung his head back and forth between the two, as if wondering what strange dynamic had changed that he faced them together.

"Yes?" Rogue asked impatiently.

"Are you okay?" Real concern flashed in his eyes.

She shrugged. "I'll live."

"Yeah." He took them in again. Both standing there. In front of him. Shadowcat waiting patiently for him to get done.

Rogue raised an eyebrow. "Was there something else?"

"What? No." He shook his head, backing up. "Nothing."

She nodded. Why had she expected more? He wasn't about to realize that his time with her touchability was limited. That he should take it now.

She wondered which of them would end this.

"Well, then, Shadowcat." She turned to her friend. "I believe we had lunch plans."

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Logan frowned at the unfolding scene in the lunch room, not quite certain what was...off.

The usual little knots of students and staff had huddled around their favorite tables, and the usual mix of food odors wafted through the area. Jubilee sat at the center of her group, regaling them with some crazy story, no doubt, while gesturing enthusiastically and nearly knocking Piotr in the face. Kitty had her nose stuck in a science book at a sparsely populated table. Rogue...


Logan narrowed his eyes. Rogue wasn't with Bobby and his friends. He studied the line still getting food, but she wasn't there either. Where was--

He swung his surprised stare back to Kitty. There was Rogue, sitting beside her, head bent toward the same book, talking in an interested undertone and nodding every so often.

And there was Bobby, sitting alone.

He looked back and forth for a long moment, wondering what could have altered the balance of power between those three so radically. Their dynamic hadn't been exactly healthy ever since John left, but it had been heavily weighted against Rogue. But now...

He studied those two dark bent heads and watched Rogue arch one eyebrow while Kitty blushed.

Logan shook his head. He should've known that girl could fend for herself. And nobody knew just why he started smiling

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